Notes Information Apocalypse

Still Life with Typewriter

I'll never write another novel on an electric typewriter. I'd rather use a sharp stick and a little pile of dogshit.
- Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

Re-reading this book sent me off on a tangent thinking about the way that word processing software influences the creative process of writing. The struggle between the pages of Still Life with Woodpecker provides a vivid sense of the restrictions and frustrations of the typewriter, which made me realise just how much my approach to writing is dependent on the non-linear flexibility of digital editing. I suspect that nowdays, many of us are far more used to composing text from fragments and chunks rather than writing anything out sentence by sentence. It's hard to even imagine what it's like to write in a one-way direction with no way of being able to skip back and re-edit at will. But it's interesting to wonder how voluntarily submitting to these restrictions would affect the process of writing.

As it turns out, Khoi Vinh has hit upon the idea of doing just that with a software concept he calls Blockwriter:

At its heart, Blockwriter is a crippled text editor. What makes it like a typewriter is that it regards every character you type into it as basically 'committed' and permanent. Rather than allowing the flexibility of cost-free deletions and insertions - and the attendant temptation to continually massage text beyond usefulness - this application only allows you to continue typing forward.

By necessity, a full realization of Blockwriter would also restrict internet operations and hide other open applications (even the system clock!), removing multi-task interruptions and temptations to procrastinate. With certain kinds of creative writing, Blockwriter may be an ideal tool for inducing a <a href=/?m=patterns-of-flow">state of flow</a> that's just not attainable sitting infront of a standard word processor like Word, which even within itself, contains a myriad of internal distractions. I'm intrigued.